What Can HR Stop Doing?

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member David Creelman.

If you were building an HR department from scratch, what things would you not do that you are currently doing now? To make this a bit more focused, let’s imagine that you are building it from scratch, but you only have 70% of the existing headcount. What 30% of tasks or activities would you cut?

This kind of exercise is most useful if you do it yourself, rather than just read my opinion, however, given that this is an article, I’m going to have to tell you the approach I would consider taking.

Automate everything

If I were building from scratch, I’d be tempted to adopt the mantra that all tasks must be automated. For every process we designed, whether it be recruitment, training, or benefits, the goal would be to create an automated process and if a task couldn’t be automated, we’d see if we could remove it from the design.

This is the inverse of how we normally do things. We usually decide on the process we want and then see if parts can be automated. Here automation is prioritized. The philosophy parallels the “mobile-first” approach to user interfaces. Companies no longer design for a big-screen then see if they can adapt it to mobile, they design for the small mobile screen in the first place.

Lean on outsourcers and gig workers

If I use outsourcers I’ll need to cut my headcount even more to pay for it, yet I believe that in many cases outsourcers do more for less. An obvious case is recruitment process outsourcing (RPO).  The recruiting world is undergoing such rapid evolution that it’s hard to see how an average in-house team could match the skills and technology found in a good RPO.

I’d also put aside part of my budget to allow my HR team to use gig workers. Instead of having one of my precious few staff spending an afternoon making a pretty slide deck, I’d encourage them to spend $100 on a gig worker to do that. I’d encourage them to develop their skills in using gig workers so that they could multiply their effectiveness.

Invest in analytics and business savvy

I’d want to cut even more tasks than the 30% suggested in this scenario because I’d want to invest in some new things we weren’t doing before. Let’s hope the automation, minimization, and outsourcing tactics will reduce the number of tasks so effectively that we’d have some budget left over. The most important new tasks that I’d want to invest in are having a much more analytics-savvy and business-savvy HR team. To encourage business-savvy, I might ask the team to go to (or attend virtually) more industry-focused conferences. Furthermore, I’d only hire HR pros who had spent at least a couple of years in a non-HR function.


It’s much harder to transform an existing HR function than to imagine what one would do if starting from scratch. Nonetheless, this kind of exercise may open up your eyes to see a vision of what HR could be even in the face of fewer resources. This wholesale reimaging is certainly more inspiring than thinking about hundreds of small cuts one might need to make to achieve a budget reduction target.

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